College—filled with many late nights and early classes. But how are students able to survive with the lack of sleep that results from this? With the use of a very addictive drug. No, not that kind of drug, this kind of drug. It’s caffeine. Students often turn to coffee or energy drinks to give them the extra jolt to make it through the day, or to stay up a little later to cram for a test. Across campus, students are constantly downing caffeine, to put that extra spring in their step. Worldwide, over 260,000,000 pounds of caffeine are consumed annually, which makes caffeine the most popular psychoactive drug on the globe. I personally, also drink coffee and energy drinks if I am running low on sleep and need a boost. I never used to drink coffee much until I came to Penn State, but now it seems that I my intake has increased tenfold. I drink everything now, like iced coffee, coffee with espresso shots, Red Bull, and 5-Hour Energy, along with a few others. When my energy is low, these come to my rescue. Unfortunately, it has become an unhealthy habit of mine, and sometimes I find myself in a situation where I need multiple drinks to keep going. The more I spend on these drinks, the more I think about how I am potentially harming my body.
Some of you may be saying, “Wait, caffeine is natural. It’s found in nature, how can it be harmful?” While it is true that is natural, caffeine can be very dangerous. Too much of anything is never good. Excessive caffeine can result in headaches, nausea, and anxiety. This video portrays the worst of what can happen from an overdose of caffeine. The video demonstrates the extreme of what can happen when one overindulges on caffeine. Is that likely to ever happen from drinking Mountain Dew every day? No. Yet, other minor things will most likely occur. But before we delve into the potential harmful side effects, what really is caffeine, and why do so many of us consume it?
Caffeine is a drug that in its purest form is a bitter white powder and in fact does indeed have addictive qualities. Everyone knows that caffeine makes you feel less tired, but how exactly does it do it? Basically it accomplishes this by suppressing it’s similarly structured Adenosine molecules found in the brain. Adenosine molecules’ role is to calm down the nervous system. However, when you consume caffeine, it overpowers the Adenosine, and stimulates and energizes the nervous system. As a result, your heart rate and blood pressure increases, which naturally increases alertness and delays the feeling of fatigue. But what about the “addiction”? It is not a real addiction, but the real reason people need it frequently, or feel “addicted”, is because it just becomes a bad habit they develop where they need the extra energy, and they turn to their trusty caffeine for help. While it is correct that one will experience slight withdrawal symptoms if you go off of it after daily use, it is nothing compared to the withdrawal symptoms another white powdered drug would give you.
There are a lot of claims about what caffeine does to the body, some of which are supported by numerous experiments, and others that have rather shaky evidence to back them up. There are many facts about caffeine, like caffeine being linked to gout attacks, caffeine raising the chance for women to develop incontinence, and caffeine raising the blood pressure of people who suffer from hypertension. What really astounded me was the amount of data about caffeine that did not have good evidence to support it. Quite frankly, it is a result of the fact that it is just very difficult to conduct an experiment to evaluate the long term effects of constant caffeine use. It is nearly impossible to run a double blind placebo trial that garners good results. Although it boggles my mind that caffeine is the most widely used everyday in the world yet we still unfortunately know so little about it, it is safe to say that unless you devour grams of caffeine per day, you will be fine. Instead you will just have to worry about your wallet because those pricy Mocha Frappuccinos from Starbucks will add up.